AIM Autosport paces early hours at Daytona

With three hours complete, Brian Frisselle aboard the No. 61 AIM Autosport entry leads the 46th Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, completing 91 laps. The Ford Riley holds a slight advantage over the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley and the No. 9 ...

With three hours complete, Brian Frisselle aboard the No. 61 AIM Autosport entry leads the 46th Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, completing 91 laps. The Ford Riley holds a slight advantage over the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley and the No. 9 Penske-Taylor Racing Pontiac Riley in third. After a fierce battle between Porsches for the lead in GT, a Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R in the hands of Kelly Collins now paces the category.

Despite not being deemed a wet race, some teams elected to fit rain tires on their cars before gridding. But teams quickly found out that the slightly damp track was too dry for the grooved compounds, sending some of the series' top teams into the pits on the pace lap for new rubber. Eight Daytona Prototypes and three GT machines were all forced to start from the pits, making it a somewhat confusing start to the 24-hour marathon.

Oswaldo Negri Jr. began from the pole position but lost the lead on lap one to teammate AJ Allmendinger in the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley. Chaos erupted at the GT start, when Scooter Gabel's Alegra Motorsports Porsche tagged the Autometrics machine of Anthony Lazzaro. Gabel limped back to the pits with a flat tire.

GT polesitter Sylvain Tremblay relinquished the lead to Christian Montanari in the No. 56 Mastercar Ferrari early on. Moments later, Spencer Pumpelly driving the No. 67 TRG Porsche rocketed to the class lead.

Allmendinger quickly opened up an early advantage up front, with Max Angelelli aboard the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Riley making a charge in third. The quick Italian worked his way past Negri to claim second and then took over the lead on lap 10.

The first full-course caution of the race came out on lap 14 when Helio Castroneves' Penske-Taylor Racing entry suffered a right front tire puncture. The red and white Pontiac Riley dashed in and out of the pits under the yellow for repairs, losing one lap to the leaders. A number of other frontrunners also elected to pit, all taking fuel and some also changing tires.

Four laps later, the green came back out with a surprise car pacing the way. Matt Plumb in the No. 7 Sigalsport BMW Riley led the way, ahead of the defending series champions, Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing. Plumb stayed out in front until lap 31 when he pitted for routine service. This gave Alex Gurney the lead in the No. 99 Pontiac Riley, as the sun began to peek out for the first time of the race.

Back in GT, Dirk Werner in the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Porsche battled the No. 81 Synergy Racing Porsche of Patrick Huisman for the top spot in class. However, the reigning drivers' champion smashed into the wall, causing damage to the undertray and suspension. Werner's car made frequent stops in and out of the pits for repairs.

With pitstops still cycling around, DP polesitter Negri was back up front. But the Brazilian began getting pressured from Mark Wilkins in a similarly prepared Ford Riley. The AIM Autosport machine got right up to Negri's rear bumper before the No. 60 entry pitted for service on lap 45. He handed his Ford Riley over to Champ Car star Justin Wilson.

Tommy Erdos piloting the No. 51 Cheever Racing Coyote pulled off-course with smoke and fire coming from the Pontiac-powered entry. Moments later, the No. 40 Hyper Sport Mazda RX-8 of Charles Espenlaub suffered a left front puncture and stopped on the apron in Turn 3. The second full course caution was deployed to retrieve both cars on lap 51.

Eddie Cheever's day went from bad to worse as his other entry, the No. 16 Coyote, also stopped on-track. Luckily though, this car was towed back just a faulty alternator wire. Another series stalwart, the Doran Racing Ford, was wheeled to the garage with a broken cv joint but also ventured back out on track after a short delay.

On lap 56, the green flew and Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon paced the way. Nick Ham, now in the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda, led the GT class followed closely behind by Porsche works driver Emmanuel Collard steering the No. 67 TRG Porsche.

The No. 56 Mastercar Ferrari, which put in a great qualifying run and early race performance, ran into trouble, stopping on course and bringing out yet another full course caution. Some cars elected to pit, including the two MSR cars, both Wayne Taylor entries and the No. 2 SAMAX machine.

Dixon took the restart on lap 65, with Brian Frisselle's AIM Autosport machine in a strong second. Back in the GT ranks, Collard passed Ham to take over the class lead - despite having no radio communication to his TRG team.

A long green stretch began to develop, with Dixon staying out until lap 87. The New Zealander handed the No. 02 Lexus Riley to IndyCar teammate Dan Wheldon. This put Frisselle in the lead for the first time of the race, as the third hour came to a close.

Other cars running into problems in the second hour included the No. 12 RVO Motorsports Pontiac Riley, which suffered a blown rotor, and the No. 58 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley battling suspension woes. The early race-leading Sigalsport BMW Riley dashed into the pits with gear selection issues. The team replaced the gearbox and it was sent back out.

After a few hours enjoyed under the Florida sun, dark clouds have started to float back over the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. A few sprinkles of rain have also begun to be felt. Still, we're very early into this 24-hour marathon.

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Justin Wilson , Eddie Cheever , Scott Dixon , Emmanuel Collard , Wayne Taylor , Anthony Lazzaro , Kelly Collins , Patrick Huisman , Sylvain Tremblay , Charles Espenlaub , Spencer Pumpelly , Scooter Gabel , Oswaldo Negri Jr. , Chip Ganassi , Christian Montanari , Mark Wilkins , Matt Plumb , Nick Ham , Brian Frisselle , Bob Stallings , Michael Shank , Dirk Werner
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Doran Racing , SpeedSource , Michael Shank Racing